“How do I create space and separation in my mixes?” How do I create clarity so that different tracks aren’t fighting with each other and so that everything can be heard clearly in my mixes?
Today I want to give you a framework for thinking about this question, as well as a couple of practical tips for how to actually go about achieving this in your mixes.
The first thing to recognize is that space and separation actually exist on a continuum; it’s not like we either have space and separation or we don’t. And space and separation isn’t actually always what you want.
So the opposite of space and separation is glue. And some amount of glue is actually good in a mix, right? Glue will make tracks feel like they come together as one and kind of bring them again in one cohesive unit.
A great example of this is Jacquire King’s mixes on Kings of Leon. So, those are really not super separated and clear. Everything kind of comes together but it’s awesome, there’s this wall of sound and everything feels likes it exists as one unit.
So again, recognize that this is a continuum. And really define how much space and separation are you really looking for.
The next step is to recognize what’s actually getting in the way. So, what’s causing a lack of separation and space and then what can you do about it.
So the main cause of the lack of separation or clarity in a mix is masking. When you have two or more tracks that sit in the same or similar area of the frequency spectrum, one usually ends up masking the other.
Hallmark example would be like the kick and the bass. So they both exist primarily in the low end of the frequency spectrum. So there’s a lot of overlap between the frequencies of the kick and the bass. And so this creates masking where one track, typically the louder track, will actually mask or obscure partially, or almost completely sometimes, the other track. So masking is your enemy when it comes to creating separation and clarity.
The next step is how do you eliminate it? How do you get rid of it so you can hear the different tracks clearly in your mix?
Imagine a dresser that has maybe four or five different drawers. Let’s say you have a bunch of shirts, pants, and different things you want to fit into those drawers. You could go ahead and stuff all of your clothes into one drawer, right? But you’re not going to get very far because really, that one drawer can only hold so much. But if you distribute the clothes that you have to store in all of the different drawers, then you’re making the most efficient use of the space and so, you can store a lot more and one drawer is not going to overflow.
So, you can think of these different dresser drawers as different areas of the frequency spectrum. So when you have all the different tracks in your mix evenly distributed among the different drawers or different areas of the frequency spectrum, that’s when you can eliminate masking and that’s when you create clarity and separation in your mix and you can hear all of those individual tracks clearly.
So now that you understand the philosophy behind eliminating masking and creating clarity, and space and separation in your mixes, I want to show you how to approach this on a practical level.
So this is a track called Joshua, by artist Leah Capelle. Let me play you a little bit of the chorus.
♫ Meet me at the border ♫ I will meet you at the border ♫ Meet me at the border
So philosophically, even though this is a rock track, I actually treated it more like a pop track when it came to clarity and separation and space. So I wanted a little bit more separation between the different tracks and that really informed a lot of the decisions that I made throughout the mix process.
So let’s take a look at some of these tracks. First, I just want to solo the kick and play it for you so you can get a sense for what it sounds like.
So there’s a lot of low end on that kick. I really wanted it to sit in the bottom of the frequency spectrum. And I knew that that was going to affect the decisions that I made when it came to the bass. And I wanted to make sure that each of them sat in separate areas of the frequency spectrum.
So, let’s go over to the bass here. So on this track, there are three different mics that I was given on the bass. So I want you to just take a listen to each of them individually so you can get a sense for what they sound like.
So here’s the first mic, this is a bass amp I guess. Cool, so that sounds great, it’s got a lot of nice low end and body on it. But let’s take a listen to these other tracks here.
So this is I guess another amp track, it’s labeled Bass Motown. So completely different sound, right? This one has a lot more mid range, it’s much woodsier, and it doesn’t have nearly the same amount of body and kind of low end power that other bass amp track has.
And the last thing we have here is a DI. So that sounds pretty similar to the Motown track actually.
Now, actually, when I listen to these in solo, I really like the sound of that bass amp track, right? It’s just got a ton of power in the low end. But I know that because my kick is sitting down there, if I favor this in the mix, we’re probably going to get some competition between these two tracks.
So if you look at the balance I have, I actually had favored the Motown track in the mix. So I’m using a lot more of that because even though that track doesn’t sound as good on its own, I know that it’s going to work better with the kick itself.
So let’s take a listen to the bass in combination with the kick. So you can hear they’re actually working pretty well together, right? There isn’t a lot of competition between them and we really don’t miss the low end on the bass because we already have it on the kick.
So philosophically, I’ve kind of put these in two separate drawers, going back to our analogy. The bass is actually sitting above the kick and so they each have their own separate area of the frequency spectrum.
So on a practical level, making these types of decisions is going to bring space and separation to your mixes because you’re really defining separate areas of the frequency spectrum for each track to fit.
And just a really actionable piece of advice when it comes to this: you don’t want to listen to tracks and EQ tracks in solo because if you’re soloing tracks, you have no idea how they fit into the context of the rest of your mix.
So there’s no way that I could have determined that this bass sound actually worked better with the Motown mic favored if I was just soloing that track. So if I was soloing it, I probably would’ve chosen the bass amp. But because I was listening to the whole mix together, I was really considering the context in which this track lives. And that gave me the information I needed to make the right mixing decision.
So if you can avoid the solo button, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to craft space and clarity and separation in your mixes.
So I hope you got a ton of value out of this video. And if you want more mixing tips like these, go ahead and click the link below in the description to sign up for my weekly newsletter which is completely free and you’re going to get free mixing tips, tricks, and techniques like these that are designed to take your mixes from good to great. Check out the link below in the description, and also you can get more of my mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com. Take care.
Video features the track “Joshua” by Leah Capelle.